by Karl H. Kazaks
HEAD WATERS, VA — At Healing Waters Farm, the does have mainly kidded, but a few remain pregnant.
Inside the old farmhouse, Hubert (H.C.) Wise is surrounded by reminders of the immanence of man’s spiritual nature by relics of those departed.
Wise is the manager of a farm recently owned by Vernon and Anne Sylvest. Both of them are recently departed from life.
On the top of the ridge behind the farm is Healing Waters Lodge, a wellness retreat operated by Dr. Sylvest. Some of the infrastructure of the Lodge operation was installed by Elisabeht Kübler-Ross, a physician famed for her book about the lives of the terminally ill. Kübler-Ross operated her own retreat on the farm prior to the Sylvests’ arrival.
H.C. himself is a reminder of the fine line between life and death. In 2010, he started raising goats when doctors gave him only one year to live.
“I weighed 465 pounds,” he said in his gravelly drawl. “I got goats to make me do something.”
Wise was no stranger to livestock or animal husbandry, however. He was raised by his grandparents on a farm in Swoope, after his father was killed in an automobile accident when H.C. was not even one month old.
H.C.’s grandfather, Elton (E.M.) Hewitt, founded Staunton Union Stock Yards.
“Far as I can remember back I was at [the] stockyard,” said H.C. The yard is still operated by H.C.’s uncles, Clay and Junior Hewitt.
H.C. remembers his grandfather and uncles taking loads of wild horses from out west and training them, eventually selling them to the circus.
H.C. has utilized his experience assessing livestock from an early age. In high school, at Buffalo Gap, he was the high individual in the state for livestock judging.
When a shoulder injury ended his VPI football prospects, H.C. attended the Reppert School of Auctioneering, then still in Decatur, IN.
“I graduated on Friday,” H.C. recalled, “then drove back to help sell horses and ponies at an auction at Staunton Union on Saturday.”
H.C., who later became a certified appraiser, worked as an auctioneer around Virginia for many years, from Orange to Danville and Bedford and beyond.
He also had a farm, raising cattle and hogs near Churchville. On the farm, every evening H.C. would get a phone call from his grandfather who would have a Bible verse on hand to share with his grandson.
Due to the twists and turns of life, H.C. spent some years — in Roanoke and Southern California — working public jobs. But when he faced that doctor’s prognosis in 2010 he made a choice to get back to farming.
He chose the goats in part because the first animal his grandfather ever gave him was a goat.
“When my grandmother put clothes on the line, that goat was out there in them,” he recalled.
At first, Wise raised his Boers near Staunton. But then he connected with the Sylvest family, who were looking to bring livestock back to Healing Waters.
“My dad was really, really happy to see it as a working farm, with the goats,” said Tasha Walsh, Vernon’s daughter.
Wise’s goal is to continue developing the farm, adding sheep and cattle. At present the farm, including the lodge, is for sale, so someone has a chance to take advantage of the improvements Wise has helped bring about on the farm.
Wise is the founder of an open consignment goat sale which will be held this year on Sept. 2 at the Augusta Expo Center. This year will be the third year of the sale, which is open to all breeds.
When Wise started raising goats in 2010, he picked the Boer breed because he liked the thickness of their frame, and liked they have more retail cuts and more high-quality retail cuts. Since then he has also added full-blood Kiko goats and developed Boer-Kiko crosses.
Wise likes the hardiness and mothering abilities of Kikos. The biggest challenge of Boers, he said, is hoof care. “If you feed them grain, you’re going to have to trim feet,”
For as much as death has been part of H.C.’s life, he finds solace in Scripture. “My Bible’s worn out. It’s as marked up as a road map.”
Over the years, H.C. has had a revelation in how to treat animals. Thanks to his grandfather’s nightly calls and his own discovery of the lessons of the Bible, H.C. went through a self-described “life change.”
“I began to treat animals more humanely. They’re God’s creation. You don’t want to have to chase an animal. You want them to come to you, and that’s what I’ve got.”
Indeed he does. His flock notices when he comes up the driveway, bleating from hundreds of yards away. In the barn, goats and chickens and the Jersey-cross calf flock to him.
Though Wise doesn’t know what his future holds, he is certain he is glad he has spent the last year here in Highland County.
“Living with Vernon has boosted my faith,” he said. “God’s blessed me for some reason. I’m extremely happy to be part of the Sylvest family. I love the animals and I love the land.”